Security Challenges in Northern Europe
Keynote Address by
H.E. Mr. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
Nordic House, 5 November 2018
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Here in Iceland, we have only just bid farewell to a large NATO fleet, which visited us on a mission very much in line with the main message of this conference.
The fleet, which united under a NATO flag here in Reykjavík before setting sail for Norway, was perhaps the most visible part of the Icelandic participation in exercise Trident Juncture 2018. But it was by no means our only involvement in an important exercise for Icelandic
security and defense.
Trident Juncture is one of the largest NATO exercises since the end of the Cold War - and the emphasis is once again on the cold. In Iceland, US Marines trained their ability to operate in cold weather, and that work continues in Norway as we speak.
From what we saw here in Iceland, there is a need for our allies to “rediscover” the High North. And it is for this reason that NATO set its sights on Norway and Iceland, but also Sweden and Finland, for Trident Juncture 2018.
After years of out-of-area operations, NATO is refocusing its efforts on European security and defense. As the book “Security in Northern Europe – Deterrence, Defense and Dialogue”, which underpins this conference, argues the North Atlantic and Iceland have regained their strategic importance to the Alliance.
This shift to European defense is not without reason. The European security environment changed drastically in 2014 with the occupation and annexation of Crimea. Many have said that we should have seen it coming – including our Georgian friends who raised the alarm in 2008.
For the past decade, Russia has significantly modernized its military, and refocused its “Bastion” concept of sea control and sea denial as far south as the strategic GIUK gap, in which Iceland plays a central role.
This renewed focus on the GIUK gap heralds a return to the situation we faced in the Cold War, with Iceland as a “lily pad” for the bulk of NATO’s fighting power coming in from North America, and a crucial installation for securing sea lines of communications in the North Atlantic. As an island nation, we are no strangers to the importance of maritime security.
We have also seen a series of concerning acts from Russia which require us to review our posture. The chemical attacks in Salisbury, the subsequent cyber-attacks on the OPCW, and the continued efforts to impact democratic processes are just some of the new threats and challenges we face.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Iceland has taken these developments very seriously, and we have our own perspective on security developments in our region and the world. The new National Security Policy for Iceland from 2016 enjoys cross-party support from left to right and sets the framework for the security and defense policy of our coalition Government. The National Security Policy was timely and guides our work in times of growing instability and increased challenges of various nature to our common security.
We are a nation without a military and will continue to be so – a key prerequisite in our National Security Policy. We are, however, a sound and trustworthy Ally and have, since 2014, increased our spending on security and defense in line with the commitments made at the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales, and increased our participation in NATO through civilian means.
We have always spoken of the importance of Sea Lines of Communications in NATO - along with our Norwegian friends. We are, therefore, pleased with the new command structure that focuses more on the North-Atlantic, and the increased awareness NATO has shown to this part of the world in recent years, including through air-policing in Iceland and exercises.
In addition to Trident Juncture this year, we have hosted NATO’s anti-submarine warfare exercise Dynamic Mongoose - and we will see more of those in the near future. We have stepped up our co-operation with the alliance’s Maritime Command in Northwood and, in the wider context, we have sent civilian experts to the Enhanced Forward Presence missions in Lithuania and Estonia. There, our people counter disinformation against NATO deterrence efforts.
Every innovation of technology has, to borrow Thomas Friedman’s phrase, flattened the world a little more. Step by step, the illusion of safety through isolation is shattered. This has become abundantly clear in the 21st century with the threats of terrorism and cyber-attacks.
As a result, we have increased our preparedness for these new hybrid and cyber threats. Increased resilience, exercising for complex threats, and protection of key infrastructure is now an important part of the work we do at home on security and defense.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I also believe in the importance of dialogue. In securing Northern Europe, we must maintain the two-track approach. This is not new – these are the two pillars, defense and deterrence combined with dialogue, the “Three Ds” as it is sometimes called, that the Alliance has been working with since its foundation.
Today, arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation are high on our agenda – and understandably so. This year, there has been focus on issues relating to chemical and nuclear weapons. If we look to events related to the INF Treaty or North Korea, we become quite aware of the importance of dialogue.
Last week, Iceland hosted the annual NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction, where we focused on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. This was an important dialogue between NATO and other partners in how to take the arms control agenda forward – towards our common objective of a more secure world.
It is essential to strike the right balance between defense, deterrence and dialogue. This includes Russia, which has disregarded international law and rejected central elements of the post-Cold War agreements, but still remains an important part of the European security architecture and a regional partner, including in the Arctic.
This takes strong political commitment and even sacrifices. We should always be strong on our principles and values - these have ensured our safety and prosperity for decades and will continue to. But we should also not shy away from engaging in dialogue on issues where we disagree on or, let alone, where we actually agree on.
There is, for example, a broad understanding amongst member states in the Arctic Council, which Iceland will chair from May next year, that the Arctic demands dialogue and co-operation above all in addressing the challenges and opportunities that are unfolding in this vulnerable region.
Therefore, I believe the Arctic Council, as well as other regional organizations such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States, which Iceland spearheaded last year, to be an important venue for dialogue when it comes to the security prospects of the High North and preserving peace in Europe.
Finally, the most important aspect to effective defense, deterrence and dialogue in Northern Europe is Alliance cohesion and solidarity. NATO is composed of 29 diverse Allies, which can at times be a challenge. But it is also a tremendous strength when we speak with one voice - committed to our common defense, deterrence and dialogue.
This Alliance for almost 70 years, this unity, this solidarity is unique -and certainly worth preserving.
Thank you, and I wish you fruitful discussions.